Exxon granted time extension

THE Exxon Corporation, which along with several affiliated companies is facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit following last year's Castle Peak power station blast, has asked for more time to respond to the legal action.

A company spokesman at the giant oil corporation's headquarters in Irving, Texas, confirmed yesterday that it had requested and been granted a time extension to reply to charges made in the lawsuit of Hong Kong barrister Michael Ford.

Mr Ford's lawyer, Stuart Speiser, said from Florida yesterday that Exxon's request had been granted by his team because a judge would almost certainly have allowed an extension if asked.

Exxon originally had 50 days from the filing of Mr Ford's court papers on July 19 and 21 to reply to his interrogatories and hand over certain documents, including the so-called blue report which Hong Kong partner China Light and Power (CLP) did not release to the blast inquest. The company now has until September 20.

However, it is believed Exxon may try to have the lawsuit blocked by arguing that Texas is not the proper venue for court action.

It has already stated that it considers Hong Kong the proper domain, as the blast occurred here and because the power station was run by CAPCO, a Hong Kong-registered company formed in a partnership between an Exxon affiliate and CLP.

Meanwhile, the United Democrats of Hong Kong are considering a proposal to set up a Legislative Council select committee to investigate last August's fatal Castle Peak power station explosion.

The idea was unveiled after representatives of the party met the Attorney-General, Jeremy Mathews, yesterday to discuss the way the issue was being handled.

Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming said the idea was only preliminary and would need further discussion before being put to the Legislative Council.

''It seems to us that the Coroner's Court may not be the most suitable place to determine a number of issues relating to what happened in the blue report or so on,'' Mr Lee said.

Mr Mathews ordered the inquest to be re-opened after allegations that China Light and Power had held back information at the first inquiry.

The High Court has also granted an injunction against the publishers of the South China Morning Post from revealing the substance of complaints made by Mr Ford in his petition to the court in Texas.

Mr Lee said the public deserved an open account of the incident, which was prevented by the injunction.

''Someone must have the report in hand but was stopped from bringing it into the light because of the High Court injunction. It is hoped that with the privilege of the standing committee, the report could be made public,'' he said.

The Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance stipulates that the select committee could order any person to attend its meetings or produce any paper, record, book or document.

in the possession or under the control of that person.